Deirdre Budd’s Blog

Adolescents (12-18 years) and sleep.

Posted on: May 3, 2009

One expects that adolescents will sleep for 9-9.5 hours but, when reviewed as a group most only have 7-7.25 hours sleep. Studies suggest that many teens spend a good part of the day with a degree of sleepiness equivalent to people with narcolepsy. This suggests that they become chronically sleep deprived. There are many things that impact on the adolescent and can result in delayed sleep onset. Homework, jobs, after school activities and a distinct variation of sleep-wake patterns at weekends contribute to this sleep deficit. The consequences are easily noted in mood impairment, negative effects on attention, memory, behavioural control, motivation and academic performance.

Data suggests that partial and chronic sleep deprivation is a serious problem in this group and that “high achievers” who are involved in many extracurricular activities may well be at high risk. Around the time of the onset of puberty adolescents develop an approximately 2 hour later sleep onset and wake time. This is as a direct result of pubertal/hormonal influences on the circadian rhythms and on melatonin secretion. In mid to late puberty adolescents have a physiological tendency to develop decreased daytime awareness levels.

Adolescents may suffer from a number of sleep disorders. The prevalence of these is thought to be about 20% and those with chronic medical or psychiatric problems such as depression may be at increased risk. The disorders commonly seen at this stage include;-

  • Insomnia 
  • Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome
  • Restless Legs /Periodic limb movement disorder
  • Narcolepsy

It is therefore particularly important that the “rules of good sleep hygiene”  are followed during this time. Healthy sleep habits and continuing as far as possible to maintain regular bed time and wake times are important re-enforcers of a good circadian rhythm. Parents should be aware of their child’s circadian preference whether the child has been an “owl” or a “lark” before the arrival of puberty and this needs to be taken into account when setting appropriate bed and wake times.

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